CHICAGO, Ill.—August 7, 2014—A poetry-vending machine popped up in Chicago’s 45th Ward on Tuesday at Replica Chicago, a printer/gift shop. The machine, based on old-fashioned gumball dispensers, doles out verses of varying lengths for just 50 cents.
“I love this! Especially since it goes back to a non-profit,” enthused Carrie Johnson after seeing Replica Chicago’s Facebook post about the machine.
Sale of the poems will support Arts Alive Chicago, an arts organization responsible for more than 20 public murals (artsalive45.com). Longtime ward resident Yvonne Zipter wrote the poems and coordinated the machine set-up. Zipter, the author of two poetry collections, two nonfiction books, and other works, said she was inspired to contribute after seeing the growth of the businesses and community that have resulted from Alderman John Arena’s revitalization plan.
“I’ve read about Arena’s push to revitalize the community,” said Zipter, “and have witnessed the many positive changes in the neighborhood. It’s a venture that I’ve long wanted to help with and now I’ve found a way to play a small role.”
The poetry machine is part of a larger trend of communities using arts and culture to drive local economies, called “creative placemaking.” Arena, elected in the spring of 2011, hired Cyd Smillie shortly thereafter to help him enact a plan that uses arts and culture as an economic engine. And the plan has been working.
Rick Kogan highlighted the progress in a recent Chicago Tribune article, praising the ward’s “quiet success stories.” (http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/ct-alderman-john-arena-arts-20140718-column.html). Kogan noted, “In the past three years, [the ward] has welcomed such new neighbors as the National Veterans Art Museum, 4041 Milwaukee Ave.; Chicago Ballet Center, 4024 N. Cicero Ave.; Filament Theater, 4041 Milwaukee Ave.; and the Ed Paschke Art Center, 5415 W. Higgins Ave.”
Jeremy Hooley, owner of Replica Chicago along with wife Lyn, is a major supporter of this approach. “If you’re deciding where to move or start a business, mark my words, Jefferson/Portage Park is the place,” Hooley said in a recent Facebook post. “I’ve lived in all the ‘hip’ areas and never seen one with as much emphasis on arts and neighborhood pride. It’s amazing how much has happened here in the last 2 years. So many inspiring people and projects popping up and having an alderman who is genuinely supportive of arts and small business makes for a perfect situation. Proud to call this home.”
Creative placemaking is happening in many cities around the nation. A report by Ann Markusen and Anne Gadwa (http://arts.gov/sites/default/files/CreativePlacemaking-Paper.pdf) details the many ways in which “public, private, non-profit, and community sectors” have partnered to “strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood, town, city, or region around arts and cultural activities”
The poetry-vending machine is therefore as much about building a sense of interconnectedness among residents as it is about raising money. Zipter said she is already feeling a stronger connection to the community thanks to the initiatives of the past three years. “I’ve lived here in the 45th Ward for 25 years. This is the first time I’ve felt like part of a community,” Zipter said.
Replica Chicago, located at 4425 N. Milwaukee Ave., is open Tuesday–Thursday, 11 am–6 pm and Fridays and Saturdays, 11 am–6 pm. The poetry machine will be on site there indefinitely.